WARWICK — Three hundred sixty jobs. That’s how many positions the Orange County Industrial Development Agency’s Accelerator incubator projects it will have created by May.
That total would represent about 260 new positions, the Accelerator’s leaders said on Friday, up from around 100 currently at three main Accelerator-supported business clusters.
About 200 of the new positions are expected to be created as a result of the Accelerator’s new Warwick hemp cluster, designed for the cultivation, extraction, production and research of the medicinal compound cannabidiol, or CBD.
This week, the Accelerator’s leaders, Orange County IDA Managing Director Vincent Cozzolino and IDA acting CEO Laurie Villasuso, also announced they’re in talks with federal officials about a potential project.
They said they hope to work with the Pentagon or West Point to open an artificial intelligence and robotics Accelerator branch in Highland Falls in late 2020.
The Accelerator’s parent, the Orange County IDA, is a nonprofit public benefit corporation. The IDA's Orange County Legislature-appointed board considers tax breaks and other economic incentives to create, attract and retain jobs.
The Accelerator’s business assistance fund, currently $11 million-plus, comes from the fees the IDA has collected from other businesses applying to be considered for tax breaks and incentives for economic development projects.
County leaders said the IDA’s new job projections represent a total reversal for an organization better known, just four short years ago, for embarrassing media headlines and scathing state comptroller audits about authorizing unwise tax breaks.
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said taxpayers are justified in holding IDAs to high standards, but, lately, the Orange County IDA is doing “nothing but positive stuff.”
“What you see (the IDA’s leaders) doing is reinvesting money in different job sectors that are totally untraditional for IDAs,” Neuhaus said. “Every one of them has a high risk, but at the end of the day you’re seeing new industries (emerge), and mom-and-pop operations and farmers, who might have been on the brink of going under, are getting a chance to succeed.”
Founded in 2009, the Accelerator long had its own lackluster reputation, including offering below-market rent for business owners to think about their products without creating jobs.
That was until the incubator's July 2015 rebranding and the addition of new leaders. The IDA’s board of local businesspeople and elected officials named Villasuso to run the organization in 2016. Around the same time, Cozzolino also was hired.
These days, the Accelerator’s projects are being featured by a New York City NBC News affiliate and in magazines such as People and Women's Wear Daily.
“It’s a 180-degree turn around,” said Bill Fioravanti, Orange County’s economic development director. “The IDA has reconciled any past issues and reinvented themselves. Their leadership is visionary.”
Cozzolino said businesses in the Accelerator’s fashion cluster, in New Windsor and Newburgh, and in the CBD cluster are attracting strong private equity investor interest.
The Accelerator also operates a medical devices and personal care products cluster on Touro Medical College's Middletown campus.
“The IDA board got together and said, 'Who really is our client?' and they came to the conclusion that it’s the taxpayer of Orange County,” Cozzolino said. “We’re looking to create quality, sustainable jobs.”